The Four Pieces to the Search Optimization Puzzle

    March 18, 2003

Hi Dan,

The clients I have now came primarily by word of mouth, although three did find me on the web — through Microsoft Front Page. If you type in “spideree” in Google search, I’m in the first 8 listings, but I’m not even in the first 10 pages when you type in “web design” + “New Jersey.”

Please look at my Web sites. SpideRee Web Design is my main source of income (now that my unemployment has run out 😉 but my other two sites get more traffic! I recently added a mention of my home state location to my opening page and resubmitted with my Web Position Gold software. What else can I do to get more jobs?


Reesa Marchetti



We might call it “search engine optimization,” but really there are four big pieces to the puzzle, and optimization is not necessarily the biggest challenge.

1. Search Engine Positioning
What I mean by this is carefully researching and selecting the keywords and search terms that you want to target. You want search terms that deliver “enough” traffic without “too much” competition. Services like WordTracker will help, but it’s best to have an idea in mind before you start using them.

“Web Design” is very generic, so you are correct in looking at localizing (New Jersey). There are probably a lot of other search terms and modifiers (*business* website design) that you will need to target as well. The more targeted the search terms are, the better the outcome will be once you get that visitor to your site.

2. Site Development
Once you’ve defined your positioning strategy, map out your website to accommodate as many pages as you will need. You can’t target more than a couple search terms on each page, although you can mix in “modifiers” like business, low cost, etc. to increase the number of actual searches the page will appear on.

Ultimately, your results will improve as you add more optimized content to your site. This might seem pointless right now, if you can’t get the search engines to crawl your whole site, but that will change as you build up link popularity.

3. Search Engine Optimization
Once you know which words you’re targeting on the page, you need to optimize it, right? Your home page right now has little chance of appearing in the results for searches that include “web design” because you haven’t optimized for that search term.

The good news is that these days, optimizing is the easy part. Once you’ve defined your strategy, building optimized pages is a piece of cake. I have an article on the basics of optimization here:

4. Site Promotion (Link Popularity)
Because search engines look at a site’s “link popularity,” and Google has its “PageRank” formula that adds weight to it, you need to work on getting more sites to link to you. This doesn’t mean hiding links on your clients’ sites, although asking them for a single link isn’t a bad idea.

Swapping links with other related sites, getting listed in major directories like the Open Directory (, and making sure that you’re listed in every industry-specific directory you can find, will all help. You can also use my personal favorite link building strategy, which is to write articles and help people learn what I know. As a designer, you certainly have a lot of knowledge that you could share.

The nice thing about “link building” is that it has its own rewards – this is really “website promotion 101.” If search engines didn’t exist, you would still be able to promote your site and find customers by building up your link popularity. Focus your link building on quality sites that are likely to deliver traffic on their own.

Once your site has a good number of incoming links, you can target just about any search terms you like, and you’ll be able to compete. Don’t stop building links once you’ve gotten your site ranked, though. Your competitors aren’t sitting still. Spending even an hour a week on link building will pay off dramatically – I usually spend at least that, and often more, if my rankings start slipping.

Dan Thies is a well-known writer and teacher on search engine marketing. He offers consulting, training, and coaching for webmasters, business owners, SEO/SEM consultants, and other marketing professionals through his company, SEO Research Labs. His next online class will be a link building clinic beginning March 22